Council Tables Budget

Pensacola City Council’s two-day budget session ended last night with a sudden swerve to the side of the road. The engine was overheating and all the needles had raced wildly into the red.

After studying Mayor Ashton Hayward’s proposed FY2013 budget—holed up with city staff in marathon, no-lunch-break workshops—the council decided to hold off on approving the numbers until public hearings are held in September. While the council did make a couple of amendments to other areas of the budget, the numbers that eventually derailed their trip stemmed mostly from the mayor’s office.

“This is the one I think some council members have been waiting on,” said President Sam Hall, before the council waded into Hayward’s personal budget.

Hall noted that the mayor was proposing his office be budgeted for $936,900. He conceded that there are “a lot of people that have some heartburn with that.”

“It’s hard for me to go out to the public and explain why the mayor’s budget is so big,” Hall said.

Most of the “heartburn” Hall spoke of seemed to stem from bloated marketing expenses and Hayward’s decision to keep on Chief of Staff John Asmar. Council members wondered why the mayor needed both a chief of staff and a city administrator.

Factions of the council have long bemoaned Asmar. On Tuesday, the conversation pertaining to the chief of staff was peppered with words like “heartburn,” “turmoil” and “the mess on the seventh floor.”

“It breaks my heart, it keeps me up at night. I really think this is a roadblock for this city moving forward,” said Councilman Larry Johnson. “Until he moves on, I think we will continue to have him as a distraction. When will he be more of a distraction than an asset?”

The council first voted to hold up the mayor’s office’s budget, waiting until a council executive was hired and further discussions on the matter were held. After that motion failed, they unsuccessfully attempted to cut Hayward’s numbers by $400,000.

After Hall pressed for the council to take a vote on approving the overall city budget, members decided to table the decision until after the public was given an opportunity to weigh in during public hearings in September.

In the meantime, city staff will be addressing other concerns raised by the council during the budget workshops. The board put holds on two areas of the proposed budget.

Council members said that they would like to hear presentations from outside agencies that receive city funding before approving those dollars. They also had overall concerns regarding the city’s new marketing contract with the Zimmerman Agency.

The money allotted for the Zimmerman contract is spread around through various city departments. Much of the money is held in the Public Information Office. Council members questioned the purpose of such an office in general—painting it as Hayward’s “propaganda” arm—and asked that they be given more information on the department before approving its associated budget.